One year ago. One year ago we were being hit by one storm after another. But the ultimate storm of cancer came and stayed….and now, on the other side of that storm looking back, I am once again reminded of God’s faithfulness, His provision, His comfort, His healing power. I read back over the blogs of the past year and I see a woman clinging desperately to the Savior. I am reminded of the woman who reached out to touch the hem of His garment and I understand her in a new way. I know myself, that I have tightly gripped the hem of His garment in my clinched fists refusing to let go. We have walked through this cancer journey saying over and over “I trust you” aloud for ourselves mostly, but also to our God, declaring that while we don’t understand, and while we know His plan is perfect, and while we were even fearful at times, we would TRUST HIM, no matter the outcome. Our faith is stronger, our family is stronger, our love is stronger and our compassion is stronger. Today, after a year of diagnosis, biopsies, surgeries, chemo, radiation, doctor appointments, uncertainties, waiting, frustrations and sometimes fear, we got the official words of cancer free. I hesitated to even post this because we have friends and family still doing battle with this evil disease. But I want those reading this who are in the battle to be encouraged, optimistic and strengthened. God is with you and you can trust Him with whatever the outcome of your journey may be. People have stated over and over that “God is good” and it is so true. But if we had gotten different news, and the battle with cancer had continued, the truth is that God is still good. He is good even when things are seemingly bad in our lives and life’s storms are coming at us so fast they are tearing us apart. When we feel like we can’t catch our breath between storms and we are staring death in the face, God is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. So wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever battle you are in, trust Him. “Be strong and courageous, do not be discouraged or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
I stayed home from work today. I felt somewhat achy, was it headache? Was it a tummy ache? I wasn’t quite sure, but I stayed home. The thought of sitting at my desk pushing papers to and fro, and answering the endless phone calls was all too much to face. I gave into the aches and pains that usually disappear within moments of my fifty-three year old feet hitting the floor.
After the hustle and bustle of one daughter off to college and work for the day, another daughter starting her second week of her sophomore year and my sweet hubby heading off to work, the house was at last quiet. I sat on the couch still in my nightgown and looked around my “lived in” house. “Lived in” is my daughters favorite line to use when I am on a rampage about the house being messy. “Mom, it doesn’t matter, it just looks lived in?”, they will say. They don’t understand the inner pressure I struggle with to make my home look like a Better Homes & Garden magazine, or worse, Pinterest! “It matters to me” I will tell them and then I set off on a mission to clean every nook and cranny.
I sat there on that couch for an hour, in the quiet, just thinking. I thought about my life and the road I have been travelling for the last fifty-three years. It isn’t playing out exactly as I had planned. That sounds like I am unhappy, but I am not, though I am finding myself at a crossroads. Many parts of my perfect plan have come to fruition. I am happily married to a wonderful man who loves me more than I ever imagined being loved. He makes me laugh, he understands me to the best of his ability as a man to understand a woman, and he supports me. I have three amazing daughters. The oldest is newly married, the middle daughter is in college and the youngest is in high school. They are strong in their faith and they are living it out. Nothing could make me more proud. I attend a wonderful church with many longtime friends. I have been on mission trips and I have taught Sunday School for high school girls long enough that I am now teaching the teenagers of the students I taught years ago. Frightening!
We have experienced hardships just like everyone else. God has blessed us time and time again. He has met our needs even when we probably didn’t deserve to have those needs met. We have learned so much as a married couple and as a family about God’s grace and mercy. All this matters.
Five years ago I went to work full time after working five years part time. Our daughters were getting older and more expensive. My husband had experienced a lay-off from a job he had been at for nearly ten years and had started over at a new company. Financially it seemed the right thing to do. Up to that point I had only worked twenty hours a week to help out our finances. The full time employment came at a time we were really struggling. Now five years later I am still working full time, mostly because we have become accustomed to the extra money.
This full time employment had never been part of the plan. I was supposed to have finished my first book, become published and obtained a lucrative book deal for additional sequels. The plan also consisted of me becoming a women’s speaker and ministering to women through conferences and retreats. This kind of work mattered.
I got up from my place of contemplation on the couch and decided to do something that matters. I got to work cleaning up the house. I made beds, I washed some clothes, I organized a cabinet and I even straightened up the girl’s bathroom. I had forgotten what it was like to be home in the middle of the day. The house was peaceful and I was getting so much done. The last time I had been home during the day on a regular basis was when my youngest was four years old.
At 3:00pm my fifteen year old came in from school. We sat and talked for an hour about school, friends, homework and anything else that came to her mind. Things got quiet for a moment and she suddenly said, “I like you being home when I get home from school.” Then she was off to her room to take a short nap.
I sat there a while longer thinking about that moment. It won’t be long till she is graduating and then off to college. This is what matters. It matters that I am there for her when she comes home. It doesn’t matter if we have lots of extra money to spend. Being there for her is what matters. Preparing my home is what matters. Serving others is what matters. Seeking God above all else is what matters. This is not what the world preaches through every social and public media. It is subtle. It is constant. But it ways in heavy on what really matters. We become confused about what is important. We strive to have it all and do it all. We push our children to be involved in everything and to maintain great grades while forgetting that they sometimes just need to be kids. We feel like failures when we haven’t achieved some kind of recognized symbol of an extraordinary woman who is perfect at parenting, leading and achieving, all while providing healthy meals, a spotless, well designed home and meaningful moments all chronicled on social media for all to admire.
I cannot compete with the ideal that floats around in my head of how I should be doing everything. It’s too exhausting. I will never live up to my expectations. The realty of life is that my house is not always clean, I do not have a particular set of skills that allows me to have every room decorated and looking magazine worthy. I am not a great cook! There I said it. I have go to meals that are no longer considered healthy or “Keto friendly” or any other kind of healthy friendly. I don’t have a deep desire to be a chef. I probably won’t be the granny cooking up amazing treats and creating lasting memories. I will probably never be a published writer. As of this writing, I have yet to have the children’s book I wrote achieve even one request for further chapters.
Loving, talking, laughing, hugging are things that matter. Nurturing is what matters. Encouraging faith in a God who loves unconditionally and who sacrificed His Son just so we could spend eternity with Him matters. Cheering each other on matters. Calling a friend matters. Writing a note matters. Listening matters. Spending time with our sweet Savior matters. Not measuring ourselves against the world’s standards matters.
Our family is FAR from perfect. We are loud. We laugh inappropriately sometimes. We may be a little judgmental at times. No one is brilliant. No one is incredibly talented. Not one of us will be famous. We are not rich. But what matters is we love each other. We talk about everything. Our girl’s poor fellas probably find the constant conversation overwhelming sometimes, but we all know what everyone else thinks about everything! We share meals, we share vacations, we share last minute road trips. We support their activities, we beam with pride at their accolades. We go to church together. I love how my youngest daughter once told us, “Not all families are like ours! We are freakishly close.” If freaky means we love each other and we are in constant communication with each other, that we talk a lot, we laugh, we cry, we fight. We hug and make-up. Then yes we are freakishly close.
There is one thing that matters. Love.
God is faithful. He is. Really. Even when I am not. I am not faithful to remember all He has done for me when I am in the midst of an overwhelming circumstance. It’s easy for me to say those words to someone else who is crumbling beneath a difficult situation or an overwhelming state of mind. But then just moments later, it seems, I am sitting here, throat constricted, my mind chaotic with possible answers to a problem, instead of taking a deep breath and releasing my burdens into His capable outstretched arms.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”. Matthew 11:29-30
It’s interesting to me, that given this word from the Lord, we still take our burdens to the feet of Jesus, lament and cry and beg for answers or resolutions or even for Him to take them from us, but then we promptly get up, pick up the burden and walk away. I want to learn from Him, I want to lay my burden at His feet and trust His hand. But I am a control freak. I am a dweller. I hold the situation or issue in my hand, study it, dwell on it and try to figure the best way to resolve it. I’m not so good at releasing my burdens into His hands. The crazy part is this: after I’ve struggled over it, lost sleep over it, tried my ideas on it, I finally come to His feet and just fall in a puddle of tears with my hands still clinching the burden. And, just as He promised in these verses, He pries my sweaty hands from the burden, brushes my hair back from my tear stained face as I relax and release it into His capable hands. He comforts me and calms my spirit and I finally rest. I wish that I could say I do not repeat this process very often, but it isn’t true. I am stubborn and willful. I am a child of God still learning that I am not in control. He is. Still learning that life is easier when a burden comes into my life if I instantly snatch it up and race to the feet of Jesus and quickly place it in His hands.
What burden is weighing you down today? Release it dear friend into the Savior’s hands and then pick up His yoke which is about peace and rest, and the. watch Him do His thing in that situation!
Last night something was confirmed about me that may surprise many of you. I am not a rocker. I know you are shocked and surprised. I’m not even a poser. (I had to look that term up, fyi) It was evident by my lack of knowledge about the music or words to the signature songs of the band. I spent more time entertained by the people in attendance than the actual concert. My husband and I were given tickets by sweet friends to a concert by The Black Jacket Symphony: A Night at the Opera and The Best of Queen. My big guy was very excited about hearing favorite songs of his younger years. I confess that I wondered what kind of opera the symphony would play. I honestly expected an orchestra. I was wrong! I am not completely in the dark, I do know who Queen is, but I didn’t realize it would be a real deal rock and roll night! You may not believe this, but I’ve never been to a rock concert. It’s true! I know I’ve surprised you again.
Parking was the first step to getting to our night of rocking and rolling….obviously not an easy task in downtown Mobile when a rock concert is about to happen! We finally parked in a church parking lot with a sign that said “Private Parking for…(and I’ll leave the church name out here just in case someone wants to report two rebellious fifty somethings!): Violators will be ticketed or towed at owners expense. I was a little anxious as we got out of the car and proudly walked toward the theatre, impressed by our night of living on the wild side. I secretly asked God to forgive us and please allow the car to still be there when the night was over!
As we entered the door of the Saenger I was asked to open my purse for security. I looked at my big guy and asked, “Are these people famous?” The security guy asked him if he had any weapons. He confessed to a pocket knife and suddenly the guys hands went up and said “You can’t enter with a weapon, sir.” I looked around at the other security people standing ready to pounce, beginning to wonder if the real Queen was in the house. My sweet husband informed me later that the lead singer died in 1985. He handed over his knife, it was obvious to me that it was worth the sacrifice to hear the band! We then walked to another security checkpoint and were scanned with a wand for any other concealed weapons. This didn’t make me feel comfortable about the obvious possibilities of events that could happen if there was this much concern for what people would carry into the concert hall! We finally got to our seats and waited. We were in the balcony, third row, dead center. Perfect view of the stage. I noted the massive speakers hanging from the ceiling, both sides angled right at us. This wasn’t going to be good. There was an atmosphere of excitement all around me. As I watched people, which I love to do, I realized the average age in the room was somewhere in the mid fifties. But the energy was more like a crowd of twenty somethings! I noted the lights, the instruments and party like atmosphere. Suddenly the lights went down and the band ran out. The crowd went crazy. The lead singer belted out lyrics and people were screaming. I looked hard at the singer trying to recognize him. I did not. But then a familiar tune came, Bohemian Rhapsody. I looked at my big guy and said “I know this!”, but my words were lost somewhere in the midst of the screaming crowd and the blasting music. He leaned down and I got as close to his ear as possible and I repeated my words. He smiled and nodded. I still don’t think heard me….but I saw the smile on his face as he took in the loud music and I knew he was having a good time. I found myself watching people more than the concert as they got lost in the music, reliving the moments of the 70’s and 80’s when they first heard the songs. People were standing and dancing, hands in the air and singing at the top of their lungs. These people knew every word. Then I heard a familiar beat….the crowd began to stomp, stomp, clap, stomp, stomp, clap. I looked at my man with shock, it was my high school senior class song! I found myself following along and singing “We will, we will, rock you”. I was no longer a fish out of water. A square peg in a round hole. I was a rocker! They sang Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites the Dust. I suddenly felt cool because I knew these songs. I didn’t know all the words, but I knew the songs. At the end of the night, my ears were numb and I honestly was glad to be headed home. I observed something as I left. It was 10:15pm and the crowd that had just been jamming out for two hours were leaving in an orderly manner, laughing and chatting as we exited the nearly 100 year old Saenger Theatre. Forty years ago, these same people would have been jumping up and down demanding an encore still full of youthful energy, demanding to be blown away by the rock band, Queen. We made it back to the church parking lot (along with many other concert attendees) and our car was still there and no ticket on the windshield. Prayer works! We drove home and I listened to my sweet man talk about the band and how good they were and how fun it was to hear some of his favorite songs. I listened and thought how thankful I was for the gift of tickets for us to enjoy a non -typical night out for this “square” chick, and to sit next to my man who has had such a difficult year. All I can say is…..rock on!
Tomorrow I wake up to the 30th Valentine’s Day with the man God gave me. But this year it is different. This year I will be mushy. I will kiss him every chance I get. I will tell him I love him every hour of the day. I will give him his favorite peanut M & M’s and maybe go have a spur of the moment lunch somewhere. Things could be so different. This past year made the fragility of life so real to me. It gave me a reality check that we are getting older and we need to cherish every day, even the ones when he is driving me crazy and pushing my buttons. Because the truth is I love this man. I know the lengths God went to to orchestrate the events and people to have our paths cross. Even the back story to us meeting is an amazing logistical undertaking. His plan for us to meet was two years in the making! We knew from the beginning that what we had was special and we wasted no time in starting our life together. I love this man because he sees me. Not the fat girl I see in the mirror every morning. Not the failure I think I am. He thinks I am beautiful and smart, and he tells me often. He values my opinion on everything. He calls me friend. He is not perfect, but neither am I. He has held my hand through giving birth and through miscarriages. He has put up with my strong opinions. He has encouraged me in my writing. He has held me close and let me cry when my Mom died. He has told me many times that everything would be okay, when I was shaken over circumstances. He has worked hard to take care of me and his baby girls. He has taken care of me when I have been sick and when I have had surgery, and been so sweet when pain meds made me whiny and weepy. He has made me laugh so many times when I wanted to be mad at him. He has held me close when I needed the security of his arms around me. He held me up and gave me strength to walk through difficult family situations and then the death of my Daddy. This man loves God and has learned to trust His hand this past year. He is the spiritual leader of our family. I love him and I am so proud of the man he has become in the last thirty years. I could not have survived without him walking by my side. My daughters are so blessed to have grown up with a Daddy who was at every event, said yes a thousand times, helped pick out prom dresses and even knows what pantaloons are and all the other parts of a Trail dress. He can brush hair into a ponytail and can cook up some amazing potato gravy and biscuits when his baby girls come asking. He has taken them on motorcycle rides and played with them in the surf at the beach. He has laughed as hard as they have on every ride at Disney. He has given them an amazing example of what a father is supposed to be like. They are strong, opinionated young women who can hold their own with any boy because of him. I love this man and tomorrow I will kiss him and tell him that I am blessed because God gave him to me.
Well. Today’s the day. We’ve come full circle in this cancer journey as we sit waiting, in a room full of other cancer victims, to have another PET SCAN. This one even more important than the last. This one will tell us the cancer is gone….or not. But our gut feeling is this cancer monster has been conquered! Our lives have revolved around that frightening “C” word for seven months. 2018 will be our year of woes that was filled with blessings. 2018 will be our year of victory over cancer. I am not as anxious or feel like a deer in headlights this time. I am not afraid. My big guy has faced this giant with courage, with determination, with soldier like strength and I believe he will walk away a conquerer. Some say they are cancer survivors, but i think they should call themselves cancer conquerors! Fighting this beast is an all out battle both physically and mentally! God has sustained us and will continue to sustain us. He is worthy to be trusted. He will hold you up when you feel you are crumbling. He will provide when you aren’t sure where it will come from. He will send one of His children to wrap loving arms around you or to hold your hand and let you cry. He will provide humor to get through difficult moments and He is faithful to walk every step with you. I knew this before….but I am absolutely certain of it now. I trust Him…..no matter the outcome of today.
So the Armstrong saga continues. Today I sit here in our recliner, right leg propped up and iced down while watching Alabama beat Ole Miss. Yes, I am recovering from partial knee replacement…..and just so you know, it’s no joke. I had unrealistic expectations of walking unassisted and already returning to my regular routine. No. The bandage is off, I can see the approximate four inch incision with pieces of tape on each end mocking me. The knee is still pretty stiff and I haven’t achieved a 90 degree knee bend yet. My right hip is complaining, so while I ice down the knee, I heating pad the hip😳😭.
I have discovered a few things about myself: I am not a patient patient. Not necessarily with others, but with my own progress. I really expected to be moving more freely at this point (9 days in). I do not handle pain meds very well. I tend to get weepy and depressed. Not a good combo with my lack of patience with myself. And I have an amazing family who takes care of me and puts up with my issues (I hope), and great friends who sacrifice in their own lives to help us out! Shout out to Keith Bradley and his mad a/c skills and servant heart. And a special shout out to my dear friend of 37 years, Dottie Hartley, who stayed with me the night before surgery and got up at 3:45am to get ready to get me to surgery by 5:00am because Lynn was already in Springhill taking chemo. Speaking of Lynn, I love this man. Even though he’s in the first week after chemo, he’s been taking care of me, amazing. I do so much better when he’s babying me and holding my hand.Our lives are crazy, but the love of our family and friends is stronger!! I’ve said this repeatedly over the last few months, and I still shout it loudly, God is sovereign, God is faithful and He will walk us through this season.
Today. Today is the day we find out if this cancer journey is coming to an end. We are waiting patiently in a room filled with other cancer patients who are in various stages of treatment. They joke with each other about whether they are doing good or not….as Lynn said to the elderly man next to him “Well, I guess I’m not doing too great if I’m here, right!”. The older man laughed a deep and crackly laugh. Blood pressure has been taken, more blood samples taken and now waiting for the doctor and the verdict. Fingers crossed and prayers flying up. It’s been a long three and a half months. If the subject had come up a year ago of where we would be in a year…THIS would never have been even been on the radar! But I will say this, this experience has given us first hand experience with the love and concern of God’s people and of God’s provision. We have re-evaluated our future and are choosing to simplify life as much as possible, to gather with friends more, to enjoy every time we are together with family and to reach out and love on others who may be experiencing the same unexpected illness.
This year has been probably the most difficult beginning with December of 2017. …
So the verdict is in. The mass has shrunk from 9.8cm down to 6.4cm. Yay! However,not enough to only have 2 more treatments. Lynn will have 4 more including the one starting today. We are a bit discouraged….we were hoping to be nearly done with this cancer journey. So dear sisters and brothers, don’t stop encouraging my big guy….he’s a bit weary and is trying to keep a positive front. But I know he was hoping. Hoping for a miraculous “it’s all gone” result. He’s been so strong and positive, but it’s been nearly 4 months of tests and needles and chemo and stays in the hospital and losing his hair and now his signature eyebrows 😁. He wants to move forward. We know God has a purpose in this, we know He is with us, we know He is sovereign. We don’t like this journey, this season, but we’ll walk it clinging to faith. Not faith in our own strength, but in His.
I cried yesterday. If you know me, you know I don’t do that a lot. It came out of nowhere. Completely unexpected. I have fought back the tears for a month….trying to be positive, encouraging and strong. Strong for Lynn, strong for my girls and strong for me. One word from my friend, which I can’t even recall what that word was right now, and the tears welled up and spilled down my cheeks. She quickly closed the door to her office and pulled a chair up next to me and took my hand in hers. She let me cry and try to get out the words that I had been pushing back for some time. She listened and held my hand tightly in hers, then gently rubbing it between her hands, it was comforting and personal and needed. Then she began to softly speak truth to me. I felt the flood of emotion begin to relax and recede. I felt my spirit fill with peace and my heart stopped aching. I knew everything she said was truth and was whispered to me in love. I felt myself breathing normally and I knew I was going to be okay. I trust God, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have to deal with fear. I don’t have to be strong all the time. I believe in His sovereignty and I know that He walks with us through whatever is part of His plan for our lives. We are not alone. We might not “see” Him, but He is with us in the hug of a friend, He is in the sweet whispers of encouragement, He is in the contagious laughter of my girls when they are together, He is in the warm meal brought to my door, He is in the beautiful sunset that takes away your breath, He is in the smile of my precious man-cub, He is in the quiet as I sit with my sweet husband finally sleeping quietly in His recliner, He is in the kindness of a friend riding by to see if our grass needs cutting, He is in the warm laughter of dear friends as we share breakfast, He is in the words of a song at the right moment, He is in the profound words of Psalm 46 as it reminds me that He has already won the battle and He is with me.
I am floundering around in a new place in my life. I became unemployed the first of September. That experience alone is it’s own blog entry. For a month now I’ve been trying to figure out what my next steps were. God has allowed me to be thrown for a loop, left standing empty handed staring up at the heavens. I’m 56 years old. I have accomplished no great earth shattering feat, nor have I written some great masterpiece that touched the hearts of all who read it. Even yesterday as I drove down the road, I was pondering the thought that I don’t sit and write anymore! Not even to blog. My soul is still. My heart thoughtful. My mind is chasing so many thoughts that I am struggling to settle on one path to walk down. I have felt lost….not knowing what direction is the right one. I have felt guilty for not pounding the streets to find a job. I have sat in front of my laptop trying to decide if I pound that super highway for a job, or put words to a word document expressing this strange season I have stepped into… and then done neither. I have sat quietly thinking about what I want to do…. and been clueless! I took a road trip to the island to get clarity from the sounds of the waves and the beach. As I sat there, feeling awkward sitting on the beach in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, I cried out to God. Out loud! Thankfully I was enjoying solitude on my portion of that sandy heaven. I heard only one word in that moment “rest”. I said “What?” I stayed there for an hour, both confused and a little agitated that this was all He gave me. I needed more explanation. I needed clarification. I needed Him to elaborate!
I wish I could tell you seven days later that I get what He was saying. But I do not. Does He even see my life right now? Does He even see my financial situation right now. He is an amazing God. I love Him. I desire to know Him better. I want to glorify and honor Him with my life everyday. But God, could you just be a little more specific! And just for the record, you and I both know I am not good at this “resting” thing! Instead my thoughts are: Why do I need to rest? What’s coming down the road? Isn’t resting also being lazy? I don’t know! Now I’m more uptight than before!!!
So. This blog post will have to be continued” as I chew on this while “rest” thing, and try to understand what He is telling me!!